Diversity of change: Activist and author Blair Imani looks to inspire and unify

As an African-American queer Muslim woman, Blair Imani is not your typical published author.

Before she hit the bookshelves, she hit the streets as an activist in the South, namely on the campus of Louisiana State University and in the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"I don't have a higher education degree or an Ivy League diploma," said Imani, now based in Brooklyn, New York. "I went to a state school in the South that was known for football."

Blair ImaniView print quality image
Blair Imani. Photo courtesy of Madison House

It was during her college years that she became entrenched in activism. It culminated with her role as a leading voice for Black Lives Matter during 2016 protests about the police shooting of Alton Sterling. Imani, 24, was outspoken on numerous television and online networks. She came out on national television while verbally sparring with Fox News' Tucker Carlson about "Muslim safe spaces" in June 2017.

Imani will speak about her coming out; activism; and new book, "Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History," at the ninth annual Harvey Milk Dinner, set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott, 350 W. Maryland St. The IUPUI LGBTQ Student Alliance sponsors the event.

In recent years, Imani has worked with Planned Parenthood and DoSomething.org, a website dedicated to mobilizing young people around the world for social change and civic action. She also leads Equality for HER, a nonprofit educational platform for women and nonbinary people. Before penning "Modern HERstory," Imani wrote for Vice and Huffington Post.

Released on Oct. 16, the 208-page book profiles 70 living, breathing and influencing women. Imani selected an eclectic mix of subjects, from pop megastar Rihanna or American Muslim Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. The collection is accompanied by colorful illustrations of the women next to the powerful stories of each subject. The author hopes the book will educate and inspire.

"HERstory" features a forward from Tegan and Sara, an internationally successful indie pop duo consisting of twin sisters. While based thousands of miles away from Imani, the Canadian musicians were among the first to reach out to her after her emotional coming-out on Fox News. A fan of their music, Imani got to meet the musicians, which eventually led to cross-border collaboration of LGBTQ summer camp projects in Canada.

"I just texted Tegan to see if they would be interested in writing the forward," Imani said. "She responded, 'Let's do it.' They are icons and have offered me so much encouragement and helped me come out myself."

Imani counts herself as among the millions who have been inspired by Harvey Milk's legacy. The 2008 Sean Penn film "Milk" was released when she was 14.

"Just the idea of an out person back then was something that I could look up to," Imani said. "I was definitely very inspired by him -- working for conversation, equality and also giving back. It was very exciting."

While IUPUI sponsors the dinner, Imani pointed out that activism and working for equality doesn't require degrees. She hopes people from every walk of life can unite for justice and equality. The young activist and author proved the diversity of change while compiling "HERstory."

While the book has been out only a little more than a week, Imani has received numerous comments and messages about it. The videos sent to her showing young children reading her book are especially cherished.

"That's so beautiful," Imani said. "It feels really good. I hope the book is really inspiring for people, and I hope it will be used in schools."